After a few weeks of intense revisions that almost went directly into copy edits, I had the opportunity to go to Universal Orlando for the weekend! I hadn't been there since before the Wizarding World opened. I'm not one for crowds, and tales of three-hour-long lines kept me away even though I love, Love, LOVE Harry Potter.
It was worth the wait.
I'm a planner when I travel and since I only had one day, I wanted to make the most of it. I joined Touringplans.com and mapped out a game plan. Disney I can do in my sleep, but Universal was completely new to me - where did we need to start? What did we have to see? What could we skip? How should I take my Butterbeer? So. Many. Questions.
We arrived at Universal before they opened to the public (it opens early for people staying on their property, which we weren't, drat) and were able to get in half an hour before official opening - but only to stay in a holding area, which was conveniently located next to a gift shop. The gift shop - THE GIFT SHOP! There were robes from each house! Wands! Scarves! Quaffles! A replica of Tom Marvolo Riddle's Diary! Basically an HP fan's dream. It was a pretty cool way to pass the time.
Finally, the park opened and we raced to Diagon Alley, right? Well, no. There are other rides in Universal and since we were on the One-Day-Two-Park-Whirlwind plan, our first stop was Minions. Followed by Transformers. And Mummy (2x!) Then we made our way to Diagon Alley. (Don't worry, this won't be a play by play!!)
We walked over to where it was on the map. Saw King's Cross Station. Saw the Knight Bus (with the talking shrunken head!). Then found ourselves on Grimmauld Place. I'd heard to look for Kreature peeking out the window - and we happened to catch him at the right time. I took a few pictures.
We could not find Diagon Alley. We were looking for Gringott's! It had a massive fire breathing dragon on the roof! How could we have missed it? Then we noticed an entrance next to the train station and walked over to it. The first thing we encountered was a brick wall, then we walked to the left (You can also walk to your right too, no tapping on bricks with your wand here) And then...
Diagon freaking Alley!
I knew it was going to be good but I was surprised by how overwhelmed I felt. (To add to the scene the movie soundtrack plays in the background.) My goofy grin got even goofier as we walked down the street, or um, alley. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes! Flourish and Blott's! Ollivander's! Gringott's! Knockturn Alley! The attention to detail was spectacular. We raced to the Gringott's ride and came face to face with he who shall not be named! The ride, in a word, is brilliant. My cheeks hurt from smiling. Then it was time for Butterbeer.
After careful research, I decided to try a frozen Butterbeer. I'd heard mixed reviews and since I don't really drink much sweet stuff, I was a little worried I'd hate it. Honest? It was perfect. Maybe the frozen factor toned down the sweetness a bit because I thought it was just right. It's topped with a toasted marshmallow foam too. #yum How many times can you say you had Butterbeer for breakfast?
We perused the shops, a certain member of our party was involved in the wand choosing ceremony, we explored all the twists and turns of the street, including Knockturn Alley, then went to lunch at The Leaky Cauldron.
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was our stop after lunch. We purchased some Love Potion and a Chocolate Frog for our ride on the Hogwarts Express, then took off for Platform 9 3/4.
It was an action packed day.
Even though the ride on the Hogwarts Express was relaxing (except for the guy who had to explain to anyone who would listen how they made it look like we walked through the wall, ugh, Muggles), I would have liked to have taken a bit of a break. And by break I mean nap back in an air conditioned hotel room somewhere. Hogsmeade was hopping when we arrived.
We soldiered on and spent the afternoon much like we spent the morning - going to the other attractions first, and saving the best, Hogwarts, for last. We were all pretty exhausted by the time we reached the castle, but perked up the moment we walked through the gates and saw the Mirror of Esired. O...M...G. Again, the details are what made this attraction so wonderful. Any fan will be delighted - it was a forty-five minute wait for the ride, but it hardly felt that way because of the walk through the castle. I don't really want to spoil anything except to say - if you love HP, you will not be disappointed.
Feet sore, wallet a whole lot lighter, we made our way back to our car totally wiped, but happy. I loved my whirlwind, post copy-edits Wizarding World trip! I wonder if they can ship frozen Butterbeer?