All Aboard to Hogwarts!

Almost every year my family takes a trip to Florida to visit my grandparents. This year we decided to fly down, not for a family visit, but to vacation in Orlando. As we planned our trip, I told my mom and dad that we had to see Harry Potter World. Harry Potter is my favorite young adult franchise. I’ve never read the books (I know, blasphemy!) but I still fell in love with the movies, the characters and the amazing story. It’s a series that has created an entirely new world and forged an unbreakable fan base.

I remember when the final movie premiered in theaters. I was at a sleep-away summer arts camp at the time, but the counselors took all of us to the local theater to see it. Many of us attempted to dress the part of young wizards by breaking sticks to look like wands. We were a raucous bunch, but it was the most fun I’ve had while going to see a Harry Potter movie.

I also recently returned from a semester abroad. During that time, my friends and I visited London, which is where Warner Bros. has their Harry Potter studio tour. We spent three hours slowly walking through and taking photos of all the costume pieces and props used in the films. The Hogwarts castle model, an enormous, extremely detailed white structure, had a dedicated room.

So after all of my fabulous experiences delving into the world of Harry Potter, it was undeniable that we would visit Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Orlando. Here, Harry Potter World is broken into the two parks: Hogsmeade in the Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios, Florida. The Hogwarts Express connects the two parks and is accessible with a “Park to Park” pass.

Unfortunately, Universal is extremely expensive and with four people it wasn’t feasible for us to visit both parks. After deep deliberation, we chose to see Hogsmeade. This park features the village just outside of Hogwarts’s borders and a huge replica of the castle itself. Several of the village’s shops also set up residence in the park. Honeydukes, a candy shop with a secret passageway to the castle, is filled with a huge assortment of sweets like chocolate frogs, while Ollivanders contains shelves of wands available for purchase.

As soon as I arrived at Hogsmeade, it felt like I was in the “real” village. Snow-covered stone buildings with triangle roofs lined both sides of the street. Workers in black robes played Hogwarts students, some waving their wands and pantomiming magic. We passed by the Hogwarts Express station, where the iconic train awaited passengers and we stopped for a brief street show. A Hogwarts student presented the scene from the Goblet of Fire where the girls of Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and the guys of Durmstrang Institute are first introduced. Four students from each school performed their introductory dance. Music played along as the guys chanted, flipped and smacked their staffs against the ground and the girls twirled with blue ribbons.

Since the weather was almost unbearably hot, we stopped at a street cart for butter beer. This cold, creamy, frothy drink was perfect to wet our tongues and prepare us for the next item on our to-do list: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride takes you through the castle replica and follows Harry Potter as he meets various magical creatures, including Dementors, Aragog, and the basilisk. Although the wait time said 60 minutes, the line was constantly moving and it ended up as a 40 minute wait. As we moved forward in line, we traveled inside the castle. We passed by the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, listened to the paintings hanging from the wall and stepped inside the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.

The actual ride was just as fun as the line to get on. It wasn’t a fast roller coaster with twists and upside-down loops. Instead, the ride swept us through the castle where huge mechanical monsters jumped out at us and occasionally stopped in front of screens that depicted Harry Potter flying on his broomstick. Our seats rotated up, down and sideways to follow Harry’s flight, leaving us feeling as though we were flying with him.

This was by far my favorite part of Harry Potter World. It truly felt like a magical experience and made it seem as though Hogwarts and Hogsmeade were real places. Everything, from the atmosphere to the architecture to the excitement rippling through the air made my visit to Harry Potter World worthwhile. And though I may be a little disappointed that we weren’t able to see Diagon Alley, I’m wholly satisfied with Universal’s presentation of Hogsmeade. It’s definitely an attraction I would recommend to any Harry Potter fan.

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