Let's just say I'd been waiting for this since January, and exclude the fact that it's technically been all my life, this way it sounds less melodramatic and I can get on with things. The car was approaching Universal when I saw it. . . among the green tracks of the Hulk Roller Coaster were the tall spires of Hogwarts Castle reaching to impale the sky. It was my Statue of Liberty, symbolizing to me that I'd finally made it home . . . I almost cried with happiness. What I actually did was put my iPod in my bag, scream, and begin talking nonstop about how excited I was.
So there I was, walking with my aunt and her boyfriend Steve [more like skipping, because they'd made me eat lunch in the Dr. Seuss land and I was about ready to spontaneously combust]. The Lost Continent is lovely, but when you've been waiting for your family to take you for about four months, nothing else is as beautiful to your eyes as the approaching arch of the entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
My eyes got big, I couldn't speak, the hugest grin stretched my face from ear to ear as I ran forward, stumbling slightly. Glancing back, I saw that Auntie and Steve were still way behind, so I froze and just stared at the front half of the Hogwarts Express peeking out beyond the gate. Two words escaped my lips, somehow perfectly audible even through the sound of hundreds of people milling around me. "We're here."
As soon as I walked under the arch way I spotted the Conductor standing in front of the train, and my eyes grew even larger. I'd heard that he was fun to talk to. Let me just say, he was an amazing actor. Good British accent, funny expressions, and when he spotted my "It All Ends Here" Hogwarts burning shirt he asked me why it was burning. I told him I was a seer and into Divination. His reply was, "Sorry mum, but for once I hope your inner eye is wrong." I just laughed and showed him my Dumbledore's Army backpack and he calmed down long enough for a picture.
The Express was a lovely piece of work, but could not compare to my first view of Zonkos and Honeydukes [which are interconnected by the way]. It was crowded, but not like it would be later on in the day. It was around 11 a.m. and the park was mostly filled with onlookers and a couple die hard HP fans. Zonko's had mostly muggle toys, which kind of lowered my mood a bit. But I spotted a Pygmy Puff, a giant fluffy pink thing, and clutched it to my chest, knowing I'd purchase him even though he was pink. It also bothered me that they only came in pink, because in the books they'd been multi-colored. Hopefully they will add on as the years go. I also saw the Extendable Ears, but they were rather large and made me laugh rather than desire to purchase one.
My eyes wandered the shelves, dissecting each object and discerning its purpose. My throat produced the strangest squeal ever let loose by muggles as my hands reached upwards to grasp a glass jar of light green m&ms. It was not the candy inside that had caused my reaction, but the label. "U-NO-POO: The constipation sensation that's gripping the nation". After deciding it was alright that Zonkos had ripped off the Weasley Twins yet again, I whisked the jar away. My aunt noted that we could pass right into the candy shop, so we did just that. Honeydukes was slightly more packed than Zonkos so we had to practically dance our way through. There were stacks of chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, sugar quills, dark marks to suck on, lemon drops, etc; all kinds of candy, muggle and wizard alike. The packaging was colorful and wonderful to look at, simply magical.
I handled my purchases for about two minutes, when I realized that I'd have to come back when the day was over, because it would all melt into a puddle of rainbow and chocolate flavored sorrow if I took it outside. The Florida heat is a suffocating monster whose grip turns anything it touches into liquid goo. My aunt took the U-No-Poo back to Zonkos after trying to convince me just to leave it on a random shelf, while I placed the chocolate frog and beans back into their respective places. My grandmother works at Wal-Mart, so I believe in not making life harder for the workers.
We stepped into the relatively short line in Zonkos, gazing at the wonders spread out before us in a buffet of imagination come to life. There was a man at the counter dressed in a detailed uniform with a wizards hat that I wish they sold at the park [they don't, I searched]. He gave a big smile as he took my Pygmy Puff. "Is this your first adoption?" My aunt grinned at me as I nodded.
"What are you going to name it?"
"I'm not sure yet." It was a question that one doesn't normally receive, so I knew he needed to know for some reason or other. I set out to thinking of a name while he began to package it and I counted out my exact change.
"So do you know yet?"
With it finally decided, I confidently told him, "Yes, Cerberus." That was the name of the three-headed dog whom guarded the gates of Hades, quite coincidentally also reminiscent of Fluffy from Philosophers Stone.
He then proceeded to hit a giant bell the size of three heads that sat on the counter in front of me. "ATTENTION WITCHES AND WIZARDS, WE HAVE THE ADOPTION OF A PYGMY PUFF. HIS NAME IS CERBERUS, THREE CHEERS!" There was clapping everywhere and I laughed as he handed me the bag. "Don't worry, this is a special air conditioned bag."
Now that the adoption was made, my aunt and I escaped back to Steve, who was patiently waiting outside for us. The Butterbeer cart hit my eyes like spotting a Hippogriff in a shopping mall and I ran straight into the line. It was a long line, but only about a five minute wait, which was so definitely worth it. My aunt was talking to the girl working the cart, telling her about my obsession with tasting Butterbeer finally, and I counted out the money. I got the frozen kind in a lovely mug, which cost eleven dollars [because you usually can just get it in a cup]. I walked to the other side of the cart, and my aunts face, more excited than mine, loomed up and said, "Well then Kiers, taste it!"
My eyes darted first left, then right. I licked my lips. Sweat dripped down my forehead, collecting beneath the brim of my hat. Dare I do it? The mug was cold in my grip, condensation forming over it, the white foam thick and creamy in appearance. Oh I dared. My mouth darted quickly to the rim and I tipped the mug slightly. An explosion of flavor hit my taste buds. I'd been told it was like cream soda, but in my opinion those people were so wrong. I understand how they were unable to properly express themselves, because it is hard to describe. The foam was sweet and thick, covering my upper lip in a white mustache. It was thick and creamy, but not bubbly like soda or fizzy in any way. It was calm and sweet, like half melted ice cream with a caramel undertone. The iced liquid slid down my throat and I heard Auntie and Steve begin to laugh. My expression was of pure, unadulterated joy. I can only assume that it was jealousy that caused their laughter, for neither of them would be able to experience what I felt now.
Next stop: Dervish and Banges. That place was even more packed than Zonkos and Honeydukes, but full of lovely goodies. There was Triwizard Cup that lit up blue, shirts and hats for all the houses. But my biggest peeve of the whole park was this: There was more stuff for Gryffindor and Slytherin than the other houses. I wished to purchase a Ravenclaw blanket, but they only came in Gryffindor and Slytherin. This happened again and again throughout my day, and I hope this eventually changes.
Anyways, I purchased a Ravenclaw shirt, Hogwarts hooded sweatshirt, Ravenclaw pin, keychain, and ID holder, along with a Ravenclaw patch to put onto my winter jacket [since there were no Ravenclaw jackets to purchase]. There was a Monster Book of Monsters in a cage next to a row to purchase. The one in the cage moved around and I have an accompanying video for it. There were many different things to purchase, including Triwizard shirts, Quidditch equipment, small statues, blankets, pillows, etc. I even spotted some broomsticks.
The Owl Post was also connected to Dervish and Banges, and trying to fight the tide into it was like going against a rip current. But my aunt and I made it through to once more be amazed. First thing we saw were the wands, all of them quite lovely. The most boring looking one was definitely Draco's, and it was a battle between Sirius Blacks, Snapes, and Voldemorts on which to purchase. I had already decided weeks ago that I was not going to buy a wand, but my aunt said, "Who cares about practicality? You've been saving for months! Get a damn wand!" So, clutching a box holding Voldemorts wand, I began to scour the rest of the shop.
There were quills, even the quick quotes quill in its acid green glory, among other bits of beautiful stationary. Including wax seals in all four Houses, Hogwarts, and a Dark Mark. They also had real stamps you could use with different Harry Potter related pictures. Next time I go I'll probably buy more stuff in the Owl Post, like stationary and Quills and such because it was all so neat and pretty. They also had these stunning leather books embossed with gold crests . . . but they only came in the Hogwarts Crest, Gryffindor, and Slytherin. See why this distressed me? People always forget about Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff! Anyways, I bought a postcard and had it stamped from a Hogwarts mailing stamp, which was pretty cool.
Once we exited those two shops I dragged them up the lane to the Forbidden Journey. There was a cart there selling plastic Gryffindor swords that made clanging sounds when you swung it, some cool shirts, and a black radar cap just like the one I was wearing but with the Hogwarts crest on it. So quite obviously I bought the cap. I must quickly comment on the woman running the cart, she and I had a wonderful conversation about Harry Potter, which also happens with a few more employees, as you will see further on in my review.
Steve absolutely abhors rides with motion, so he was just going to wait in line with us then turn back and take our stuff [this is good since I had to give him my Dumbledore's Army bag, camera, and huge bag of Wizarding World purchases].
The castle loomed above us like a monument to my most wonderful dreams, representing my entire childhood up until now. You never know how important your dreams are to you until you see them standing before you. We walked down the roped lines through a darkened corridor, torches burning artificially bright with golden statues of the founders lining it. Colorful tapestries hung from the walls, covering the stonework with scenes of the most interesting type. Paintings bickered above us, and the trio appeared to tell us that they wanted us to play Quidditch with them. The portraits were humorous, and the interior was the most stunning sets I'd ever seen.
First we were outside, beneath the detailed arches of the Herbology greenhouse, real plants and fake alike hanging and planted everywhere. There was a huge vine crawling up the side of Hogwarts and it added a sense of realism that I just couldn't help but admire.We passed through Dumbledore's office where Michael Gambon quoted the movies. My mouth moved along in unison with his oh-so-familiar words. "There comes a time when we must choose between what is right, and what is easy." His office held shelves of magical instruments that boggled the mind, and I went right up to the Pensieve and touched it, giddy with excitement. After Dumbledore's office, we entered the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, another perfect redo of the movie set. The best part was definitely the dragon skeleton dangling from the ceiling. Here, we saw the trio again and they hid beneath the invisibility cloak. Once through this we passed into a few random corridors, the Gryffindor Common room, and then to the ride itself. The wait had said 40 minutes but hardly felt like it, everything was so amazing!
A man in wizard robes strapped me and my aunt in, said I could keep my hat on, and sent us off into an adventure I'm not likely to forget anytime soon. It was a startling mix between virtual flying and sets, but it worked well enough. The screen ones was where I truly felt like I was soaring after Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and the sets made the Acromantulas and Dementors come alive. A dragon had been let loose and I believe we were trying to escape it. There were wonderful birds eye views of the castle, we ended up in the Forbidden Forest and the Chamber of Secrets, everywhere important from the first few movies. A Dementor tried to suck out my soul, a dragon was chasing us, and I was exhilarated.
I don't think the ride was particularly jerky or fast, just that they could have made the transitions between the virtual ride and the actual sets a little smoother. All in all, simply stunning, and I had truly felt like I'd been flying. In the gift shop, a.k.a. Filch's Emporium, there were goodies galore!
The Marauders Map, a continuation of their thousands of pins and keychain collection, stuffed animals, shirts House socks, a chess set, Ministry of Magic wear, etc. It was mostly Slytherin and Gryffindor in the clothes once again, but I purchased a Ravenclaw banner and Snape keychain. Definitely a wonderful place of magic and intrigue. I wanted to buy the stuffed Crookshanks but my aunt talked me out of it. There were also many other stuffed magical creatures such as Buckbeak, Fluffy, and Fawkes. It was hard to keep from purchasing the lot!
After this excursion, my aunt and I went into the line for the Flight of The Hippogriff, which was stated as being 20 minutes. This was a complete and total lie. We must have waited at least an hour, if not an hour and a half. I really am not complaining, but Auntie is a very impatient person, so it was hard for her. We decided it took so long mostly because there was only one coaster, and the Express people kept getting to go on faster.
Hagrid's Hut was huge and brilliant, just like in the movie. Buckbeak himself was sitting in a nest woven out of real branches so intricately that I stared at it for about a half hour while waiting, trying to see how it all managed to turn into a bowl. I still don't know how they did it. Buckbeak was made of animatronics and completely real looking, with his big yellow eyes blinking and his head bowing each time a coaster rolled on past. The song "Hippogriffs Deserve To Die" by Draco and the Malfoys came to mind, and that was stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
When we finally got to the ride, it was about thirty seconds long, and not the most exciting thing ever. It was cute, and not incredibly babyish. Just definitely not worth the extensive wait. I wish the sign had told the time wait accurately. I was unable to ride the Dragon Challenge because the wait was too long, but I have ridden it back when it was still Dueling Dragons, and I've read accounts of its appearance. There are banners copied from the ones in the movies for the Triwizard Tournament, and it's a fast paced coaster, also the only one with two coasters in one.
I finished the day with another Butterbeer, which turned out to be a bad idea because after one, you don't really need another. The sweetness clogs your mouth and even cold water can't clear it. I decided it's just like they said in Mugglecast, ButterSugarBeer. The drink had way too much sugar. So don't ruin your trip by trying to force down a second mug, just buy a bottle of nice refreshing Pumpkin Juice. It's literally liquid pumpkin pie, with a faint apple cider taste too it. So if pumpkin pie is not your most favorite flavor, I wouldn't recommend it. But if it's your cup of tea then by all means, drink it. I bought two, it's so delicious. Sharp, cool, and full of flavor it clears all other flavors from your mouth but doesn't linger like the clotting thickness of Butterbeer.
We watched the students of Beauxbaton and Durmstrang perform, with a loud British MC. I felt bad for the performers because they were forced to wear their uniforms, which were winter style in the movie. They all looked as if they were ready to pass out. I went back into Honeydukes to buy my candy, and ended up having a five minute conversation with the employee behind the counter about how Goblet of Fire was not what I considered the best book, how her favorite one was Deathly Hallows and how I was faithful to the Half-Blood Prince. Let's just say, I'm glad that people who know the books work there. It makes the experience all the more real to me.
On my way out I saw a girl with a t-shirt that said, "Harry kills Voldemort, marries Ginny, and they have three kids." I left the park laughing hysterically, laden with my many purchases, and happier than Dobby with a sock.